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'Greeks sometimes have a short memory; they spoke about us in that same way'

Ahead of the ASRC's telethon on World Refugee Day, CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis urges members of the community to recall their migrant past and dig deep to send a message of welcome and hope

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Kon Karapanagiotidis Photo: Herald Sun/ Mark Wilson

13 June 2017

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne's west is once again preparing to host an epic telethon on World Refugee Day to raise much-needed funds to provide shelter, healthcare, and food aid for thousands of refugees.

Following their impressive achievement last year, more than doubling their target with a whopping $236,000 raised on the day, this year CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis and the team are setting their sights even higher; aiming to raise $300,000.

The money will be put towards the centre's even bigger winter goal.

"We're trying to raise enough money to be able to provide 55,000 nights of housing for people seeking asylum who would otherwise be homeless. We're trying to find enough money to feed another thousand people come Christmas time per week, who would otherwise be destitute and hungry. And we're also trying to fund formal social workers that would allow us to be able to provide the critical care that we need and want," Mr Karapanagiotidis told Neos Kosmos.

The telethon is aptly run on World Refugee Day, Tuesday 20 June, in a bid to raise awareness, encourage compassion, and get people engaging with an issue that the CEO says has "wrongly been politicised".

"Refugees have been demonised and we're trying to humanise the issue and get people to engage in it in the way that it should be engaged - which is it's a humanitarian issue. We have a moral duty and an obligation to try and save the lives of as many people as possible and together create a community of welcome and inclusion and support for refugees," he said.

The telethon thus far has an impressive line-up of local celebrities and media personalities taking part as volunteers, who Mr Karapangiotidis says were more than happy to take part.

Among them are fellow Greek Australians author Christos Tsiolkas, journalist Angela Pippos, and chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission Helen Kapalos, along with academic Dr Susan Carland, musician Missy Higgins and actor and recent gold Logie winner, Samuel Johnson, to name a few.

"It's really quite heartening; it wasn't difficult getting those people together at all. Many of them I had never met but I can't stress how quickly they all just said yes on the spot; people were just incredible," he said.

"In fact the worse it's becoming at the moment with all this racism, the racism of the Pauline Hansons of this world and all that fearmongering, the more we're seeing people wanting to donate, high profile people wanting to volunteer and lend their voice to people and to be able to put a human story to this."

The centre's founder, who is of Greek Pontian decent, particularly urges his fellow Greek Australians to take the opportunity to recall their own migrant past and to give back.

"It's always a shame historically to see how under represented Greeks are as volunteers and donors to the ASRC.
"My parents were refugees themselves; all Greeks come from a background of immigration. Our parents or grandparents all experienced racism when they came here. Greeks sometimes have a short memory; they spoke about us in that same way. They spoke about us as a problem, as a threat, as a burden."

The telethon will run over the course of 18 hours, with lines opening at 6.00 am until 12 midnight, and will be streamed live throughout the day via social media.

"We're going to be going non-stop, it's going to be amazing," Mr Karapanagiotidis said.

"By people donating on that day and calling us they can keep people safe from hunger, and homelessness, and give people hope. Also send a message of welcome which in a time like now is more important than ever before."

Lines open on Tuesday 20 June at 6.00 am. To make a donation, call 1300 692 772. To follow the ASRC's work and to catch the live stream, visit facebook.com/Asylum.Seeker.Resource.Centre.ASRC/

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